KARAK, Jordan – Gunmen assaulted Jordanian police in a series of attacks Sunday, including at a Crusader castle popular with tourists, killing seven officers, two local civilians and a woman visiting from Canada, officials said.
Several armed men barricaded themselves inside the castle for hours, hemmed in by special forces soldiers. At least 34 people, including two foreign nationals, were wounded in the day’s violence, which was one of the bloodiest attacks in Jordan in recent memory.
Canada’s global affairs spokesman, John Babcock, told The Associated Press the dead woman was Linda Vatcher, 62. Babcock said her son Chris was also injured.
The federal government said in an emailed statement Sunday afternoon that Canadian officials were working with local authorities to gather information and were providing consular assistance to Canadians.
Barb Rhymes, a cousin of Vatcher’s, said the retired elementary teacher from Burgeo, Newfoundland had been visiting her son in Jordan where he works. Rhymes said Vatcher was a widow and a mother of two adult sons.
“She was very friendly, outgoing. She was nice to everyone. A friend to all,” Rhymes said from Burgeo, a remote town of 1,400 people on Canada’s East Coast. “It’s devastating. It has hit the town hard. My mind is not there right now. She was a beautiful person.”
After the attack, the Canadian embassy in Jordan tweeted a warning to Canadians, advising them against all travel to Karak, a town in central Jordan about 140 kilometres south of the capital until further notice.
Security officials announced late Sunday, several hours after reports of the first shooting, that the operation had ended and that four gunmen were killed. They said troops continued to search the area.
The officials said large amounts of weapons had been seized. They made no reference to local media reports that at one point, the attackers had held hostages.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks in and near Karak, however, the shootings were the latest in a series of attacks that have challenged this pro-Western kingdom’s claim to be an oasis of calm in a region threatened by Islamic extremists.
A witness said attackers immediately targeted tourists when they reached the castle.
“Four gunmen got out of their car” at the castle, said Wasfi al-Habashneh, a local resident. “They opened fire at the Canadian tourists. The woman was killed, the other Canadian tourist escaped and hid behind a car and one of the children was injured.”
Al-Habashneh said the attackers also targeted other people. Security forces “engaged with the gunmen and cornered the gunmen at the castle gate,” he said.
The killing of the Canadian visitor could further hurt Jordan’s embattled tourism sector, which has declined sharply since the Islamic State group seized large parts of neighbouring Syria and Iraq two years ago.
The chain of events began when a police patrol received reports of a house fire in the town of Qatraneh in the Karak district, said a statement by Jordan’s Public Security Directorate. Officers responding to the call came under fire from inside the house, the statement said. Two policemen were wounded and the assailants fled in a car, it said.
In another attack, gunmen fired on a security patrol in Karak, causing no injuries, the statement said.
Armed men also opened fire on a police station at the Crusader fort, wounding members of security forces.
In all, seven members of the security forces, two local civilians and the tourist from Canada were killed, security officials said. Fifteen members of the security forces, 17 local civilians and two foreign nationals were injured.
Jordan faces homegrown extremism, with hundreds of Jordanians fighting alongside other Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and several thousand more supporting the extremist group in the kingdom. Jordan is a key U.S. ally, and a member of a U.S.-led military coalition fighting IS.
Over the past year, gunmen have carried out several attacks on members of the Jordanian security forces and foreign trainers. Earlier this year, Jordanian security forces engaged in a deadly shootout with suspected IS sympathizers in a northern Jordanian town.
In the most recent incident, three U.S. military members were killed in a shooting outside an air base in southern Jordan in November. The three were in Jordan on a training mission, and came under fire while driving into the base.
Associated Press writer Omar Akour reported this story in Karak and AP writer Mohammed Daraghmeh reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. AP writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
With files from The Canadian Press